Search This Blog

Friday, April 17, 2015

Hiking the Elders Run Trail at Middle Creek WMA

We previously hiked the Millstone Trail and part of the Horseshoe Trail when we last visited Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area a few days ago.  That visit convinced us that Middle Creek not only offers extensive hiking opportunities, but, even more importantly, abundant opportunities to view migratory birds and other wildlife.  We decided today to explore another complex of trails in the refuge.

Middle Creek in 2010 was designated as a Globally Significant Important Bird Area, because it hosts annually a large percentage of the continent's population of snow geese and tundra swans and provides critically important migratory stopover habitat. Middle Creek also is recognized for having exceptional concentrations and diversity of birdlife; about 280 species of wild birds, including 23 species of overwintering waterfowl, have been recorded there.  Middle Creek‘s allure to tundra swans is galvanized not only by its secure roosting area, but also by the winter wheat and harvested cornfields found on private agricultural lands around of the wildlife management area. Protection of those farm fields is considered paramount to the tundra swans that gather at Middle Creek in late winter. Middle Creek also has been designated as an Important Mammal Area, because it is a unique habitat with a predator-prey complex consisting of meadow voles, northern short-tailed shrews, red
foxes and eastern coyotes. Although none of these are uncommon in the state, such large, functional systems occurring without the intrusion of human disturbance in the form of fragmentation, are uncommon. Middle Creek‘s habitat is a mosaic of extensive soggy old fields that are becoming increasingly uncommon in the state, with woodlands, cultivated and fallow fields and old red cedar. This distinction also was awarded because Middle Creek has an established educational program that interprets the natural history of its resident mammals.

In 1998, a pair of bald eagles created a stir at Middle Creek when they built a nest on a southern shoreline of the main impoundment. A year later, the nesting pair hatched and fledged one young. Since then, the nest has contributed to the bald eagle‘s remarkable recovery almost annually. Today, bald eagles are a principal attraction at Middle Creek. On any given day, a birder or visitor has a great chance of seeing a bald eagle over or in the vicinity of the main impoundment. There also are good seasonal opportunities to see northern harriers, short-eared owls, ospreys, and year-round residents such as red-tailed hawks, Cooper‘s hawks, great blue herons and Canada geese.

Our hike today started at the junction of Horseshoe Trail and Middle Creek Trails and would be a nearly 5 miles loop including both.  We set out west on the Horseshoe Trail.  It still looks like winter in this area, even though the weather was sunny and warm.  You can see Kathy examining the wintry landscape below: 

Even so, we saw the early signs of spring.  Some lime-green leaves had popped, as had some early red leaves.  We discovered these two delicate clumps of wildflowers, which gave firm witness that Spring is arriving:

As we neared the top of the climb on Horseshoe Trail, we crossed an electric line easement with a view west.  The view was partially obscured with brush, and by a haze from a nearby controlled burn.

Continuing on the Horseshoe Trail, we were treated to some open view of the rolling hills.  The area permits controlled logging, and the path (really a woods road) had been cleared perhaps 25 feet on either side by loggers.  The logging was selective, and except for the clearing along the road, its was selective rather than clearcut.

We reached the junction of the Horseshoe Trail with Elders Run Trail.  Here, David examines the trail sign:

About a quarter mile down the Elders Run Trail, Kathy spotted the ruins of an old cabin.  It boasted beautiful stone work for its foundation and chimney, had a cellar you could stand up in, and must have been a nice structure in its day.  Research failed to reveal any history of the ruins.

The cabin was significant enough, however, to have an elaborate stone springhouse, which still functioned.  The spring bubbles up inside the stone structure and fills a small pool, which runs perfectly clear, before the water exits as originally designed and flows down to join Elders Run.

A couple miles down Elders Run Trail, we found the junction with Middle Creek Trail, which follows up Middle Creek back to Middle Creek Lake, along the bed of an old trolley line.  Looking at the substantial work done to build the train bed and raise it from the surrounding wetlands, we were pretty sure that the rail line had been for more profit-oriented purposes than a mere trolley line and that, possibly, the line had originally been built to haul lumber from earlier logging operations.  The trackbed was in surprisingly good condition, although sections of it have since been reclaimed by wetlands.

This section of the trail had its little surprises.  Here, David tries to fit through a "one lane" hikers bridge that crosses a stream bed.  The wooden bridge uses the original train trestle foundation, which, again, was in nearly perfect shape.

Several wet sections of the trail had been improved with boardwalks.  Luckily, the day was dry, or else these boards would have been as slippery as ice due to all the algae on them:

Here was another first:  some obliging trail worker had placed two cut stumps conveniently on either side of a fallen tree to give hikers a step up and down as they clamber over the tree trunk.  We wondered why this was easier to build those stump steps than to simply have cut the fallen tree where it crossed the trail.  However, the entertainment value was immense.

We look forward to more miles of hiking in the Middle Creek WMA.  There are many miles we can explore on the Horseshoe Trail as it leafs out, and Middle Creek itself has many more miles of wildlife viewing trails that we have yet to investigate.  You never know what you'll find when you move into a new area!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.